Seven Reasons For Sukkah Sitting

Diverse sources on why we eat and sleep in the sukkah

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This explanation is the subtlest of all we have seen thus far. R. Yitzhak Aboab thinks that the main point of living in the sukkah for seven days is to increase our faith in God. When we live in a sturdy house, we are protected from the elements; rain and cold and heat do not harm us. As a result, we begin to have faith in our homes, not in God.

Likewise, we tend to place all of our trust in men, especially influential rulers and leaders. By living in a flimsy sukkah for seven days, exposed once again to the elements, we realize that ultimately we must put our trust in God who rules over our houses, the elements, and all human rulers.

Universal Peace 

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch was the leader of neo-Orthodoxy in Germany in the 19th century. In his book Horeb, he says that the sukkah is a symbol of universal peace and brotherhood, as we recite in the evening service on Shabbat and festivals: "ufeross aleinu sukkat shelomekha"--"spread over us Your sukkah of peace."

The term sukkah is used in this prayer to symbolize peace and brotherhood, which shall be based not on economic and political interests, but on a joint belief in one God (Horeb p. 126, quoted by Rabbi Isaac Klein, A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice, p. 159).

Remembering the Less Fortunate

The last reason for sitting in the sukkah is my own, although I'm sure someone has said it before. By sitting in a flimsy sukkah, exposed to sun and wind (and in some places, rain and snow!), we are reminded of those less fortunate than ourselves. Precisely at harvest time when we thank God for the bounty he has given us, we must remember to share it with the poor and the hungry.

And if you should ask me, what is the real reason for dwelling in the sukkah for seven days, I would immediately answer with the Talmudic phrase (Eruvin 13b) "Both these and those are the words of the living God." Every one of these explanations can speak to us, but, "lo hamidrash hu ha'ikar ela ha'ma'se"--"more important than expounding the Torah, is observing it" (Avot 1:17). While sitting in the sukkah, every Jew will find his or her own religious, national, or personal reason for observing this beautiful mitzvah.

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Rabbi David Golinkin

Rabbi David Golinkin, Ph.D., is president and rector of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, where he teaches Talmud and Jewish law, and he heads the Va'ad Halakhah (committee on Jewish law) of the Masorti, or Conservative, movement's Rabbinical Assembly in Israel.